SAN DIEGO -- Whatever Bill Koch's camp did to modify its No. 1 boat, America3, between the semifinals and this final round of America's Cup defender trials, it clearly has skipped the boat to a higher plane of speed, at least looking from the decks of Stars & Stripes.
In yesterday's Day 3 of the best-of-13 series, both boats were sailed around the course flawlessly. But after 20 miles of sailing in moderate (6-8 knots) winds and lumpy seas, Koch's America3 crossed the finish 4 minutes 20 seconds ahead of Team Dennis Conner and Stars & Stripes.
Such a difference might be explained in extremely light breezes, a condition that magnifies time margins. But yesterday's breezes built throughout the race, giving a comparison in several conditions and on several points of sail.
Yesterday's eight legs only adds to a total domination of Stars & Stripes by America3, which has won 23 of 24 legs so far in this round.
"We made two modifications to our boat," Koch said before the race. "But we don't want our opposition to know what they are."
And, according to Buddy Melges, the first-string helmsman aboard America3, "All the technology that they [the America3 design team] have come up with is now coming to the front of the boat. This is a wonderful, fantastic boat."
Conner began the race with a fairly even start, 1 second ahead and to leeward of America3, a position from which Conner observed heading up the course: "Looks like we have a nice lead."
But as with the first two races, heading up the first leg, America3 simply turned on the boatspeed in a drag race. Koch also had an advantage of better wind to the right. In two of those races, America3 led Stars & Stripes into the top mark easily. Only in the first race -- in which America3 was over early -- did Conner beat America3 to the mark, although he had lost 25 seconds of the 40-second lead with which he started.
On the challengers' course, the racing was closer. New Zealand sailed home with a 34-second win over Italy in a race that typically was full of tactical match racing.
Italy's Paul Cayard made a strong start, fighting for the right side of the course -- seemingly the favored side -- then drove ahead of New Zealand, which had trouble trying to power through swells in the 6-knot breezes.
At the first upwind mark, Il Moro had built a 1:42 lead over New Zealand. But then down the run, with the breeze beginning to freshen, the Kiwis felt a spring in their boat, making their drop around the leeward mark just 48 seconds behind.
With the breeze now up in New Zealand's optimum range (9-12 knots), Rod Davis got over to the right side of the course, and burned off the lead of Il Moro, which did not cover. Back at the top mark, New Zealand had taken a 33-second lead, which it stretched to more than a minute before Cayard and the Italians made their late charge.
In yesterday's big swells, Stars & Stripes, with her broader bow and forefoot, clearly was disadvantaged, especially since Conner's boat did not find enough power to drive through them.
Conner fell farther and farther back -- more than five minutes by the end of mark 7 -- until there simply were no match-race tactics possible.